Of all the Eastern European cities laying claim to the boast, “the next Prague,” Krakow is for real.
So writes Rick Steves in his Krakow, Warsaw, and Gdansk guidebook.
What a crock!
First, this isn’t “Eastern Europe.” Although it’s hard to pinpoint the geographical center of Europe (it depends on what islands are included in Europe), a widely accepted location is near Vilnius, Lithuania. All of Poland is west of this location.
Second, “the next Prague” might or might not be a boast. If it means an undiscovered gem about to be as big a tourist destination as Prague has become, I don’t think that’s something to strive for or boast about. Prague is infamously overrun with tourists. When I was there in early April, there were already huge crowds. I can only imagine how crowded it must get in peak season. Why would Krakow, or any other city, strive for that?
And from what I’ve seen so far in my first day and a half here, Krakow is not undiscovered. There are already huge crowds here.
Finally, I don’t know what it means to say, “Krakow is for real.” Perhaps Rick means that Krakow has a legitimate claim to being “the next Prague”? Or perhaps he means Krakow is a genuinely first-rate tourist destination. Or maybe he means it’s a real, authentic place where travelers can visit and see something that hasn’t been converted into Disneyland.
I just object to the whole sentence. Krakow is, based on my brief experience here so far, a delightful place. It’s a place I feel like I could wander for days and just enjoy what I’m seeing. It feels simultaneously touristy and workaday. The foreigners here are as likely to be college students as tourists. And although the Old Town and Kazimierz districts are popular (and overrun) with tourists, I feel like there are a lot of locals who are hanging out here as well.
Yesterday when I arrived by train (2 1/2 hours from Warsaw), my driver whisked me off to my lodging, in a perfect location a block from the main square. Igor, my JayWay representative who made all the local arrangements for the entire trip, and who lives here, was waiting to greet me. He gifted me with a bottle of Polish vodka and, after I got checked in, took me to dinner at a charming, characteristically touristy restaurant.
Today I had a “Krakow Grand Tour — Small Group Walking Tour.” The small group ended up being a group of one! I had a private tour all over the Old Town, up to the grounds of Wawel Castle, and around Kazimierz, the old Jewish district. The tour ended there, so I got lunch from a food truck and visited a few of the synagogues and the old and new Jewish cemeteries. Then I headed back to rest a bit before attending a short Klezmer concert just a few blocks from my hotel and then got dinner at a fun but very noisy and crowded place with the best pierogies I’ve ever had.
Early morning tomorrow: 7:30 pickup for a tour to Auschwitz-Birkenau. So I’m off to bed soon.
Oh, the featuring image at the top… it’s a detail from the hand-painted wall of the Franciscan Church, done by Krakow artist Stanisław Wyspiański (1869–1907).